Review Summary: The Great War does a good job of reconciling grim themes with Sabaton’s tried and true formula
When Sabaton announced that their ninth album would be based on World War I, I wasn’t sure if they’d be able to pull it off. Mind you, this was not in the sense that they wouldn’t know what they were talking about. On the contrary, the band puts a lot of effort in deciding topics and making sure their lyrics are historically accurate. My concerns were more based on how they deliver their message; the War to End All Wars was a grievous conflict that had no clear winner and saw extensive suffering for all sides involved. Bands like 1914 and even Iron Maiden understand this, but I was worried that Sabaton’s general “triumph over adversity” attitude could clash with or even cheapen the gravity of their chosen theme.
To Sabaton’s credit, The Great War is one of the band’s darkest albums in quite some time. It doesn’t exactly wallow in the depths of despair, but the atmosphere is decidedly somber throughout as songs like “The Attack of the Dead Men” and the title track put a particular haunting twist on some of their hooks. One can still detect that feeling of heroically charging into battle but even some of the upbeat tracks like “Fields of Verdun” are delivered with an intense urgency that highlights the futility in the attempt to do so.
Of course, there are still plenty of upbeat tracks running about. Tracks like “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” and “82nd All the Way” are archetypal Sabaton numbers as the signature gravelly vocals deliver valiant choruses over flamboyant guitars, chugging bass, and classic Nightwish-style symphonics, the latter song making for a particularly strong highlight. “The Red Baron” is the biggest curveball in this regard, channeling Uriah Heep in its prominent organ and “Easy Livin’” shuffle. I suppose dogfighting can still be seen through a romanticized lens in contrast to the ghastly vision of life in the trenches.
But while The Great War is easily Sabaton’s most epic sounding album since 2012’s Carolus Rex, part of me feels like they could’ve taken it even further. Songs like “The Future of Warfare” and the garbled “The End of the War to End All Wars” certainly show off a heightened scale, but they still keep to fairly conservative three to four-minute runtimes. I would’ve loved to see a longer song or two with swelling transitions and more climactic transitions, but such a hope is about as feasible as expecting to reach the other side of No Man’s Land.
I can’t expect Sabaton to pull out an equivalent to Iron Maiden’s “Paschendale,” but The Great War does a good job of reconciling grim themes with Sabaton’s tried and true formula. The concept doesn’t feel tacked on as it had on The Art of War and the individual songs are more effective than those on The Last Stand, which is enough to dispel most of my worries of mood whiplash. There are better avenues if you want to explore a dead serious take on the subject matter, but this album is a respectable take that is easily in the top half of the Sabaton discography.
“82nd All the Way”
“The Attack of the Dead Men”
“The Red War”
“Fields of Verdun”
Originally published at http://psychicshorts.blogspot.com